The Rolling Stones
n First Listen is a regular column that forces our regular writers to listen to bands that they’ve never heard—but by all rights should have—and charts the reaction.
The Rolling Stones...really…why do you all bother? Since I was old enough to start exploring music on my own (beyond peer groups and parental vinyl stacks) I knew that investigation, evidence, and research were needed before drawing the kind of black and white conclusions that led to statements like “[insert band name] are shit.” I wouldn’t, or more accurately I couldn’t really get away with calling them irrelevant, despite the fact that I believe their musical legacy would’ve happened anyway and probably by much nicer people. That legacy being that a bunch of privileged pasty back-sided white boys managed to stumble across a formula of crossing black music (specifically blues and R&B;) with guitar pop and, along the way, made a boatload of cash.
In this, the winter of 2005, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to be wasting those precious grains of sand in hunting down the less well-known Stones stuff to see if I’d made a grievous error by dismissing them as an influential ingredient as opposed to a musical force I can enjoy. It’d be hard for anyone to have escaped the songs of the Stones past their teenage years, especially as every couple of years some new wave of denim rockers comes to claim their throne. Like everyone else I did my time enduring one or more of their eighty-four hits/singles/anniversary collections as well as listening to the albums that I ‘needed to…man’. So whilst a cassette from a friend of mine of their early Decca material (songs ranging from 63-69, I believe) is still about as welcome as a rabbit dropping in your raisins, its at least worthy of investigation., if only to reassure myself that Primal Scream’s “Rocks” is the only Stones song I ever need to own.
But despite this hand-plucked selection, I still came swiftly to the conclusion that I had wasted another 90 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back to spend idly contemplating the intermingled fibrous strands that make up the deposits of fluff in my navel.
I’m honest enough to admit that my original dislike of their music was always happily reinforced by their the silly wrinkly redundant rock pig myths that they gladly played up to. It’s always nice to hear that someone you think you really dislike actually is a twat after all. Whether as the bad boys of rock and roll or as elder statesmen of The Canon, they failed to move me from my position, and damn it feels good.
Their oft-celebrated ace in the hole, the playing of Keith ‘the man, the legend, the Scarecrow’ Richards’ still remains a utter mystery to me, and god knows I’ve tried to understand it. I remain in these post-cassette hours totally befuddled by claims of his rhythm guitar prowess. Where’s the funk in his playing? There aren’t any examples here of the peaks, punches, and smoothness that I’d associate with exceptional rhythm playing. Why are my hips dry and motionless? While bands like The Black Crowes are undoubtedly totally in debt to The Stones to me they shake, shimmy, and push much more fluidly than the Stones ever did. An unpopular opinion that I’m sure would get me lynched at either a Mojo or Rolling Stone buffet. While Keith worship perplexes me, the fact that Mick is even tolerated plain annoys me. There’s an audible pomposity in Jagger’s tone evident even in his down-trodden bluesier efforts, which even Eric Clapton hasn’t been able to match for its overwrought self-importance.
The rest of the playing here on exhibit A (whether it be later stuff like “Under my Thumb” or early pop like “I Wanna Be Your Man”) is 95% perfunctory and unexceptional in almost every way, in fact the only exceptional thing about The Stones is the fact that some people still care about this Herman’s Hermits style crap. This incredibly average selection of poppy R&B;, sloppy balladeering, and music bordering on concrete-pastoral-faux-psychedelia that may well have sounded crazily alive in the mid-sixties sounds now sounds like it belongs in that dusty forgotten box of 12” medleys that gets dragged out at wedding receptions.
And if these songs were not so pervasive in rock history and if the band would just give it up then I’m sure—as it is in the case of Jimmy and the Box tops, The Shadows and Jerry Muffin and the Moptopped Fun Boys—that I’d never give them a second thought. As to why they did and still do, I’m drawing a blank and can only think of sarcastic asides of very little merit in attempting to understand why. Post-cassette and a few thoroughly good hard listens later, I’m still sure I’m right to believe, and to mouth off about, The Rolling Stones—who are completely and utterly overrated.
By: Scott McKeating
Published on: 2005-02-08